Roots: The O’Malley Clan

The O'Malley family coat of arms

By Liam Murphy, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2007

The ancient O’Maille or O’Malley name is said to be derived from the Gaelic words “maille” meaning gentle or smooth, and “maglios” meaning chieftain, which is fitting as the O’Malleys were once the chieftains of the baronies of Murrisk and Burrishoole in County Mayo.
On today’s political scene, Martin O’Malley (D.), subject of our cover story, served as the hugely popular Mayor of Baltimore for two terms, before being elected Governor of Maryland on November 7, 2006.

Martin wasn’t the first O’Malley in politics. U.S. Representative Thomas O’Malley represented Wisconsin in the early 1930s, and prior to that, Edwin Joseph O’Malley (1881-1953), born in the Bronx, was a ward boss for Tammany Hall, and served as the Commissioner of Public Markets in New York City.

Edwin’s son, Walter Francis O’Malley, after his family lost its money in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, attended Fordham University at night. Hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an attorney, he eventually became the president and chief stockholder of the team. And in a move that turned out to be very successful, but at the time enraged millions of Brooklynites, he moved the team to Los Angeles.
Walter turned over the Dodgers presidency to his son Peter in 1970. Peter held the position until 1998, when the team was sold to Rupert Murdoch. In 2004, Boston businessman Frank McCourt bought the team for a reported $371 million.

Peter has made major contributions to  the U.S. Little League program, baseball’s acceptance as an Olympic sport, and the promotion of baseball globally, particularly in Latin America and Japan, and Ireland, where he built a number of baseball fields and a Little League field.

Another O’Malley who went far afield was King O’Malley (1858-1953). King left the U.S. and moved to Australia after contracting TB. He recovered, and was eventually elected to the Australian House of Assembly. As the Minister for Home Affairs, O’Malley helped select the site of Australia’s capital city, Canberra.  When O’Malley died in Melbourne at the age of 95, he was the last surviving member of the first Australian Parliament.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Donagh Brendan O’Malley, Fianna Fail politician and cabinet minister, was a pivotal figure in Irish education in the 1960s. He introduced free secondary school education and, where necessary, instituted an aggressive building program of community schools and regional technical colleges.

Donagh’s nephew, Desmond Joseph O’Malley, founded the Progressive Democrat Party, and became its first leader in 1985. He also served as a TD (Teachta Dála or member of parliament) for Limerick, and as the Minister at the Departments of Industry and Commerce and of Justice.

Des retired in 2002, but his daughter Fiona O’Malley served as TD for Dun Laoghaire from 2002 until losing her seat in the recent election. Her cousin, Tim O’Malley, was the former TD for Limerick East and Minister at the Department of Health and Children.
In Ireland’s fight for freedom the name O’Malley is legend going back to the 16th century and Grainne Ni Mhaille, or Grace O’Malley. One of the clan’s most famous daughters, Grace, the subject of the Broadway musical The Pirate Queen, was a seafaring clan leader who rebelled against the forces of England’s Queen Elizabeth.

Ernie O’Malley was an IRA officer who played an important role in the Irish War of Independence. His books, On Another Man’s Wound and The Singing Flame, are considered among the finest memoirs of that period. Ernie’s son Cormac, who serves on the Board of Advisors of Glucksman Ireland House at NYU, presents the annual Ernie O’Malley Lecture Series at the university.

O’Malleys also fought proudly in the U.S., and one, Robert Emmet O’Malley, a corporal in the Marine Corps, received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in combat in the Vietnam War.

The O’Malleys are also well-represented in the arts. Tony O’Malley (1913-2003), is widely considered to be one of Ireland’s leading painters. Born in Callan, County Kilkenny, he taught himself the skills of the brush while waging a long battle with tuberculosis.
American actor, comedian and playwright Mike O’Malley, one of the stars of the CBS series Yes, Dear (he briefly had his own sitcom The Mike O’Malley Show), has appeared in the movies Deep Impact, Pushing Tin and 28 Days.

Bryn Lee O’Malley, a Canadian cartoonist who also writes graphic novels, was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist in Humor.

The O’Malleys also have a fair share of animated and fictional characters to their name. “Mr. O’Malley” serves as the fairy godfather to young Barnaby in the “Barnaby” comic strip created by Crockett Johnson. Mickey O’Malley, a retired police officer and Irish immigrant, played a supporting character in the short-lived animated series C.O.P.S. And let’s not forget an all-time favorite, Thomas O’Malley, the worldly alley cat in Disney’s Aristocrats.

Meanwhile, the fictional Father Chuck O’Malley, whose portrayal by Bing Crosby in both Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s won him Oscar nominations, is a reminder of a more innocent time, while in real life, His Eminence Seán P. O’Malley, who was hired to do damage control in Boston after the Catholic Church was rocked by sex scandals, is probably the only cardinal to have his own blog (www.cardinalseansblog.org). O’Malley was born in Lakewood, Ohio in 1944, and is the only Capuchin (a missionary order) in the College of Cardinals. ♦

7 Responses to “Roots: The O’Malley Clan”

  1. Mark Andrew Burger says:

    I’m form the Mary O’Malley family in Cleveland Ohio in the 1880s. Also born in Lakewood Ohio.

  2. o’malley’s r lit

  3. JOHN MELODY says:

    Great article. My uncle Eddie Melody had the honor of meeting Robert Emmet O’Malley at a St. Paddy’s parade in Newark in the early 70’s, Eddie was a Newark Nj Police Officer who served in the USMC during WWII. He was proud to have a photo taken with Cpl O’Malley, the Medal of Honor winner.

  4. James Austin says:

    I am the grandson of Ernie O’Malley. My mother Coleen O’Malley has shown me our families history book. I appreciate any new information about the rich history of my family

    • Cahal & Helen O'Malley says:

      Cahal is a son of Ernie O’Malley. How is your mother related to Ernie O’Malley

  5. My brother did a family tree search and said that we through my father joseph, son of James and many first cousins that showed to be warriors.
    His claim was that we were of the bloodline of the infamous Grace O’Malley has interested me, but not enough to spend the money to prove it. There are many O’Malley’s representative of our clan, and my father married up, but to a talented and famous bloodline, but also short lived. I have died three times and would like to know if there’s a legitimate way to find this out!

  6. Patrick O’Malley says:

    Great article. I am first generation British, My family lived in Knockaglana Co Mayo dating back to the late 1700s the records then disappear. Could have something to do with the The HMS Helga, a British Gunship, sailing up the Liffey a shelling the records office. Due to the Polio epidemic in the late 50s I contracted the disease and as a result of my Physiotherapy discovered new abilities in sport and then competitive competition. swimming where I collected lots of medals throughout the years. Then into Elite Competition but through Paralympic Powerlifting. I competed at the European Games 1989 in Poland and got Silver then the Paralympic Games in Barcelona 1992 then finished my sporting career and a Para Powerlifting Referee at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Just shows that the O’Malley’s are still making a name for themselves. Even the American Ambassador in Ireland is an O’Malley.

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